Paul Reubens’ character Pee-Wee Herman is a completely unique creation.
The appeal can be really hard to describe; you either get it or you don’t. I can’t say that I’m huge fan of the character. I didn’t grow up with the show mainly due to the fact that when I was at the age that one would probably watch, it was during the actor Paul Reubens’ porn theater scandal so my parents distanced me from the franchise. What’s really funny is due to how vague they were on the details, as a kid I was under the impression that he had been caught sucking his thumb in public… no seriously. However, I have seen the original film “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” by Tim Burton (his first feature) and I am a fan of that. It’s by no means a comedic masterpiece, but it is a fun flick full of inventive energy. While looking for something to watch on Netflix, I decided to give this new sequel a chance… it didn’t work out.
Cinematics (Plot, Acting, Cinematography, etc.) – 3
Everything on this front was so incredibly standard. The story is that Pee-Wee Herman lives in a small town mostly content with his life until he and a stranger (Joe Manganiello playing a fictionalized version of himself) instantly form a bond. Joe invites Pee-Wee to his birthday party in New York City. Pee-Wee is unsure as he doesn’t like going on trips away from his hometown, but the idea of getting to hang out with Joe again proves to be too much and he sets off. Along the way (much like in “Big Adventure” ) he meets all sorts of weird, funny and interesting characters. Now it is a road film and as is often the case, the destination isn’t as important as the journey, (i.e. the adventures and gags that happen along the way). However here nothing is especially interesting. We have things such as a gang of female outlaws (dressed like the characters from “Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill” because… I have no idea why) stealing his car, a novelty salesman, a group of hair enthusiasts, the Amish, a rich woman with a car plane, and the old staying the night at a kindly farmer’s house with his daughters theme (complete with shotgun wedding). It’s all stuff we’ve seen in a dozen of other movies or it’s just plain weird and uninteresting. Again, this is a road movie and how it works is really dependent on how much you enjoy each vignette. Personally, I found few that I liked.
In recent years we’ve had the return of Harrison Ford to Han Solo and other such roles and for the most part it’s been great as these actors have slipped so seamlessly back into their iconic roles. I really wish I could say the same for Paul Reubens, but this doesn’t feel like the same character in the writing or acting. Pee-Wee is a hard character to explain other than he’s a man-child and very strange. He’ll completely change voices from sentence to sentence. There’s a bit of tension in each interaction in how he’ll react. Will he prank them just to be funny or will he join them in joking around? It was always hard to tell in the earlier stuff. Here it almost feels like they wanted to soften his character and as a result he feels like a much blander version of Pee-Wee. Other than a few things, he doesn’t feel all THAT unusual. Part of it may come from Reubens himself who is definitely trying with the role, but sounds like he’s finally too old for this character. It comes off as an old guy trying to recapture the magic of his younger days. I don’t want to sound too harsh because like I said he is trying, but it almost is more sad to watch. All of the other actors are fine, no stand outs. Nobody is awful but as I sit here typing there’s nothing much to say about all of the other actors other than point some of them out. Like Ted’s dad from the the “Bill and Ted” movies who plays Farmer Brown and Stephanie Beatriz as one the female outlaws. I have to admit I didn’t realize it was her until I looked it up on IMDB. You probably know her best from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and it is amazing how much a smile and different hair color can disguise you.
Speaking of actors looking different, they actually used that digital de-aging technique on Reubens’ face throughout the movie. On the one hand it’s nice that it never really looks creepy or fake like other earlier examples I could mention. On the other hand I didn’t realize they had done that while watching (which normally for special effects is a good thing), but it’s like they wanted to make sure it didn’t look too weird so they de-aged his face… but not too much. He still clearly looked older than he did in the earlier films and shows. I had to google set photos to even see the difference which isn’t great since Paul Reubens still has a rather young looking face. So it just makes me wonder what was even the point of going through all of that trouble? The rest of film is very standard looking. Nothing impressive about the lighting or camera angles. I’m not saying “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” was amazing visually, but even at that early point in his career Tim Burton found a few spots to really use his unique style. This film looks like any made for TV movie, there’s nothing incompetent with it but nothing I’m going to remember other than how bad the blue screen was when Pee-Wee falls out of the plane.
Entertainment Value – 1.5
I did not laugh much at this film; at the most it got a few chuckles from me. I’ll tell you the one joke that actually got a sizable laugh out of me. Pee-Wee finds himself at a snake museum, (if you saw “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” then you know Pee-Wee hates snakes, a trait that reportedly comes from the actor Paul Reubens in real life). In this museum all of the snakes are all take offs of snake puns and as a fan of puns myself, this whole sequence was probably my favorite. Mr. Herman is less than impressed with each of these until he gets to the main attraction, The Monster. He goes into the dark room and it’s… a paper mache snake, but then the real giant cobra appears behind him in another cage. Pee-Wee screams like a small child. It’s actually a well-done example of comedic set-up and build up and pay off. If there were more jokes like this I may have liked it more. I remember a few years back hearing about the live “Pee-Wee Herman Show” on Broadway. I had heard good things about it so I thought maybe this would have a chance.
However, a majority of jokes just don’t go anywhere. In some cases they’re so odd I’m not even entirely sure what the joke was supposed to be. The original had a big collection of cartoony, stupid, smart, weird, and just plain silly jokes but I can’t help but feel like most ones in here are just tired. Then, there are some I have no idea why they exist. For example the film opens with an “E.T.” spoof, but it ties into nothing. It’s a dream sequence, but it’s not even random enough to convince me that it’s just a weird for the sake of a weird opening. If that’s the kind of joke you’re going for then you still have to make apparent the the joke you’re telling. You’d expect this if “E.T.” was recent big film, but spoofing it this long afterwards feels incredibly out there. Some may look at this review and ask why I’m so hard on this film, but went fairly easy on “My Big Fat Greek Wedding II?” I’ll give it this much…for Pee-Wee it doesn’t really have any repeated jokes from earlier productions other than the Rube Goldberg type machines in his house. These are “new” jokes, but it’s also a good example of new doesn’t equate to better.
Rewatchability – 1
I honestly can’t imagine a scenario where I would watch this again. I could do it. There are worst things out there, but I don’t plan to not do I want to. Sorry Pee-Wee.
A sadly unfunny, uninteresting return for Pee-Wee Herman to a feature film. While Paul Reubens tries hard, his older slower performance doesn't allow him to really get back into the role. Pee-Wee has usually been weird, but always in an infectiously funny way that this new version definitely lacks. As a result, it just comes off as a confused bore. I give it 2 stars out of 5.